All Those Strange Machines

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Sara, here

When I first started learning tin and copper smith work, I could not remember the names of any of the hand turning machines used in the trade. All I knew was most of them were hard to figure out, that I was worried I was going to cut my hands on the edges of the metal, and I definitely kept ruining pieces of tin or copper that Bob (the master smith I apprentice under) was trying to make for customers (though Bob could generally fix anything I messed up, thankfully).

I also thought the smiths who designed said turning machines could have been a bit more colorful. For instance, the grooving machine (which puts a groove and sets down the crimp seams of sheet metal), could have been called the “smashing” machine. The beading machine (which puts different sized decorations in the metal) could have been called the “fancy” machine.

There are so many stakes made for soft metal smiths I don’t know if I could ever find and name them all, but the turning machines were numbered, and short of the double bottoming machine and circle cutter, I’ve finally collected them and use them weekly in my own garage shop, as well as the ones Bob keeps well-oiled and ready.

Here we go:

Stomp Shears – like a huge scissors, it is meant to cut large pieces of sheet metal. There are rulers for measuring length along the bottom and sometimes the sides. And to use it? Yup. You stomp down on the pedal along the base.

Circle Cutter – unsurprisingly, I bet you know what this one does. You know it – it cuts circles. Much more efficient than doing it by hand with a hand snips, and with a much nicer, smoother finish to the sides.

Burring Machine

Burring Machine – for raising a “burr” or a 90-degree angle on the edge of your sheet metal, this one is supposedly one of the hardest machines to learn to operate. And I admit, there’s definitely a trick and a touch to use it efficiently. But oh, is it nice when it clicks!

Bar Folder – you put the metal in the slot, change the amount of metal you want to fold over and how sharp a bend, and you…fold it over. Voila! A perfectly straight kink in the metal. Great for preparing straight sides for a seam or a wire.

Turning Machine

Turning Machine – this puts a groove in the edge of a piece of sheet metal, and usually is used for preparing a piece to take a wire along the rim.

Grooving Machine – sets down crimp seams for you so you don’t have to do it bit by bit by hand and hammer. Super fast and quick. I can only imagine how happy smiths were to get this one in hand!

Wiring Machine – yup, it wires. It’s actually pretty slick. You get the wire under the pre-turned area, kinda bend the metal over the end of the wire, and run it through. Again, it’s a huge time saver!

Setting Down Machine

Setting Down Machine – shocker, this thing sets down seams. Basically, after you prep the base/bottom of a piece, the metal is still a little bumpy. This machine makes the seams nice and smooth.

Double Bottoming Machine – hey, I bet you can’t guess…yup, this one lets you do a quick double bottom seam on your piece. Double bottoming strengthens a base really well, but it also is super hard to do without wrecking an almost finished piece of cookware, so this machine keeps things safe and finished prettily

Grooving Machine

Beading Machine – which puts beads into the metal. hahahaha. Otherwise known as adding a design to the metal. I like this one because you can interchange the dies and make different designs in the metal. You can use a triple bead, single, double, or ogee, for instance. Huge time saver, once again, plus it makes the metal strong through work hardening.

Now, some smiths use different names for these turning machines, which is just fine. (I’d love to hear about them!) But what’s so amazing is a lot of my machines, as well as Bob’s, were made in the early 1800s. And they still work (with some oil and a bit of TLC) exactly as they did 200 years ago, building cookware and reproduction wares exactly the same way.

I wish I knew what these machines have seen. Who owned them first? Where? And what did they make?

It’s all so amazing!

(How to use each machine can be found at the House Copper YouTube site.)

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